Chapter 9. Mohammed and the Mountain

In Chapter Fifteen of the treatise On the Sublime we find a discussion of the imagination and of visualization as sources of grandeur and dignity in literature. The key term is phantasia. This term applies “when by an effect of enthusiasm and passion you seem actually to see what you are saying, so placing it before your listeners’ eyes.” [1] The author illustrates this with a well-known passage from Euripides’ Orestes, when the play’s anti-hero in his madness produces such vivid mental images of the Erinyes that he believes they are real:
ὦ μῆτερ, ἱκετεύω σε, μὴ ᾿πίσειέ μοι
τὰς αἱματωποὺς καὶ δρακοντώδεις κόρας·
αὗται γὰρ αὗται πλησίον θρῴσκουσί μου.
Euripides, Orestes 255–257
Oh, mother, I implore you, stop sending on me
The blood-eyed serpent daughters:
There they are, there they are jumping close to me.
Our anonymous author, however, does not say anything about Orestes seeing anything himself; for him it is the poet that is doing the seeing. Euripides, according to him, has actually seen the Erinyes himself, and so strong is his phantasia that he “has virtually forced the listeners/readers to become spectators.” The idea of “spectator” (the author uses the term θεάσασθαι “view,” “witness”) is remarkable, since this text is of course drama, and the primary recipients of the play are in fact spectators, not readers.
The author of On the Sublime is apparently thinking of the composition of the scene, and of its emotional appeal to a reading audience, [2] not of its mise en scène before an audience in the theater. He sees the scene as the fruit of poetic vision and enthusiasm, not as a dramatic text that is meant to be performed. It is worthwhile to dwell for a moment on this difference between written reception and theatrical reception in connection with phantasia. On Longinus’s understanding of this notion, we are asked to identify with the poet’s phantasia, as he in his turn identifies with Orestes in his frenzied panic. We are leaving our here and now in the imagination to share in an experience that took place in the past.
But the passage is in fact drama. That means that when we adopt the standpoint of spectators, imagining ourselves to be in the theater, we do not share in any poet’s inspired vision itself, but witness its concrete results: we share in a character’s experience that takes place here and now, in the theater, and our phantasia consists in our willingness to give in to a theatrical, mimetic illusion. That illusion is a matter of an actor pretending he is Orestes, but it is also a matter of Orestes’ language: he addresses his dead mother directly, and with the demonstrative pronoun αὗται he locates the Erinyes close to the imagined mother. [3] Orestes’ frightened outburst is strongly deictic: he points at his own phantasma, which for him is full reality. In short, phantasia viewed as theatrical effect is not a displacement to another place and time in the imagination, but the creation of an imagined reality here and now, in the context of the performance in the theater.
The confrontation, then, of Longinus’s readerly reading of Euripides with a theatrical, dramatic reading produces a distinction between two kinds of phantasia. In this Chapter I will develop this distinction into two ways in which Greek narrative can evoke the past, two ways which I will associate with two major narrative genres, epic and historiography as exemplified by Homer and Thucydides. We will look in particular at the markedly different ways in which the poet and the historian make use of the system of the verb in the Greek language.

Deixis am Phantasma

Imagination and mental appearance are central to the treatment of deixis in an older but still seminal work of (psycho)linguistics: Karl Bühler’s Sprachtheorie: Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache (1934). The essential point about Bühler’s theory of language is that “pointing” and “locating” is just as important as “referring” and the conceptualization of abstract notions. In Bühler’s own terms, the Zeigfeld (“demonstrative field”) of language is just as important as the Symbolfeld (“symbolic field”) and so Bühler comes to discuss at great length the phenomenon of deixis, the way in which language allows its speakers to point to what is inside or outside their discourse. Pointing can be done in various ways: a discourse can point to itself (in which case we, and Bühler, speak of “anaphoric” pointing within a discourse, as in “see above”); a discourse and its speaker can also point to extradiscursive realities that make up a speaker’s immediate context, for example, the place or time of the speech in question, and the speaker’s interlocutors. In this case we may speak of immediate, discourse-external deixis of the kind we explored earlier in Chapter Five, the linguistic equivalent of the physical gesture of pointing; Bühler speaks of demonstratio ad oculos. [4]
But most important for Bühler, and for the present argument, is a third possibility: the deixis of things that are not physically present in the speech situation, things that can be accessed only through the intermediary of memory or the imagination. This pointing, which takes place in the realm of what the ancient critics called phantasia, is called by Bühler Deixis am Phantasma. [5]
Deixis am Phantasma is a complex pointing, and it involves a shift, a displacement (Versetzung). Since the phantasma is not really present in the speech situation, the speaker and his interlocutor have to imagine either that it is actually there (viz., that it comes into the speech situation), or conversely that they leave their here and now and go to it. [6] As Bühler puts it himself in reference to the well-known anecdote: either the mountain comes to Mohammed or Mohammed goes to the mountain. And he adds that in real life the mountain is a lot more willing to move than in the legend, since the ease with which any given speech arena can be transformed into an imagined new reality is remarkable, and lies at the basis of any mimetic, theatrical illusion. This form of Deixis am Phantasma is a pretended demonstratio ad oculos. In the other form, the phantasma does not come to us; we go to it in the imagination; we displace ourselves to another reality, away from our present here and now, so that a new, imagined Zeigfeld comes into being with its own spatial and temporal orientation. For Bühler, this imagined movement away from our here and now is typical of epic, and cinema, whose effect depends on the human faculty of forgetting one’s immediate surroundings. The coming of the phantasma to our here and now, on the other hand, is associated by Bühler with performed drama. [7]
We can think of epic and drama, then, as two fundamentally opposed ways of evoking what is absent. We may now ask how Bühler’s distinction works out for the Greek manifestations of these two essential genres. Longinus reads Euripides’ dramatic text as if Mohammed goes out into the past to the mountain: the poet identifies with Orestes and we share in his phantasia—a reading that departs from the deictic orientation of Orestes’ speech under its original performance conditions: here the mountain comes to Mohammed and we share in Orestes’ Zeigfeld as it is created in theatrical space before our eyes. And Homer? Bühler reads epic as Longinus reads drama, but we may wonder whether this is the only way. [8] The genre of epic is perhaps less self-evident than Bühler’s account would suggest, and more subject to historical circumstances. Indeed, in the study of archaic Greek literature and poetics, we tend increasingly to conceive of Homeric poetry as performance, as has been demonstrated in various ways in the preceding chapters. This would align Homer more with drama than with Bühler’s generic type “epic.” And this leads us to the central question: if epic is performance, what does this mean for the reality evoked by Homer? Does the mountain come to Homer, or does Homer go out to the mountain? Does it matter? Are there features of the Homeric text that point in either of these two directions?

Vividness in Homer and Beyond

In itself Homer’s ability to create the illusion of reality is beyond doubt. Indeed, Homeric “vividness” is one of the main themes of Homeric criticism, in Antiquity as well as today. The key term is ἐνάργεια (enargeia), a term that is used in ancient rhetorical theory and literary criticism for the “evidential” quality of discourse aimed at by rhetoricians, historians, and poets. [9] The term enargeia is derived from the adjective ἐναργής, which in pre-theoretical contexts can denote the direct presence of a god as it is recognized by humans, unmediated by any disguise, or dreams or oracles when their meaning is transparent. [10] As a literary concept, enargeia is the transparency of language as a medium of representation: the distinction between hearing and seeing, between word and object, and between the present and the past disappears. But how does this happen? Does the present become the past or the past the present?
Let us look in this connection at the Homeric Scholia. The picture they present is ambiguous in interesting ways. For example, the scholiasts can use the adjective δεικτικός for the reality created by the epic tale; this adjective is normally used in the Scholia and in the Greek grammarians for the language of what Bühler calls demonstratio ad oculos: it typically denotes the “emphatic” function of personal pronouns as marked by accentuation (e.g. σέ or σού). [11] But it can also be used for particularly vivid details in a description. This happens for example in the description of the fight over Patroklos’s body: the onrush of the Trojans is compared to the sea at high tide striving against a swollen river:
ὡς δ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἐπὶ προχοῇσι διιπετέος ποταμοῖο
βέβρυχεν μέγα κῦμα ποτὶ ῥόον, ἀμφὶ δέ τ᾿ ἄκραι
ἠϊόνες βοόωσιν ἐρευγομένης ἁλὸς ἔξω
Iliad XVII 263–265
As when at the outpouring of a rain-swollen river
huge waves are roaring against the current, and at either side the exposed
beaches are crying as the sea outside is bellowing.
The scholiast uses the adjective deiktikon for the participle ereugomenēs modifying halos:
καὶ ἔστιν ἰδεῖν κῦμα μέγα θαλάσσης ἐπιφερόμενον ποταμοῦ ῥεύματι καὶ τῷ ἀνακόπτεσθαι βρυχόμενον καὶ τὰς ἑκατέρωθεν τοῦ ποταμοῦ θαλασσίας ἠϊόνας ἠχούσας, ὃ ἐμιμήσατο διὰ τῆς ἐπεκτάσεως τοῦ βοόωσιν (. . .) οὕτως ἐναργέστερον τοῦ ὁρωμένου τὸ ἀκουόμενον παρέστησε. δεικτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐρευγομένης
Schol. Iliad XVII 263–265
And one can actually see the huge surf of the sea being thrown against the current of the river and roaring as it is beaten back, with the beaches on either side echoing the noise, which he has imitated with the diectasis of βοόωσιν (. . .). In this way he has presented the thing heard even more vividly than a something actually seen. “Deictic” is also ἐρευγομένης.
Apparently the surprising detail creates the illusion that the reality evoked can be actually pointed at in performance. Another remarkable feature of this passage is the analysis of the epic diectasis in βοόωσιν as an acoustic mimesis of the sound involved (ὃ ἐμιμήσατο διὰ τῆς ἐπεκτάσεως τοῦ βοόωσιν), which points again to the here and now as the locus of representation. The poet (or performer) has presented (παρέστησε) the reality of the epic tale in such a way that it becomes even more vivid than something actually seen, producing the emotions in the listeners that are the aim of all poetry. [12] The commentary on this simile, then, seems to have retained a sense of Homeric poetry as performance. Homer has made the mountain come to us, to our Zeigfeld, and we have become spectators in the context of narration.
Other comments on Homeric phantasia and enargeia in the scholia are less clear. For example, the beginning of the chariot race at the funeral games for Patroklos is characterized by the scholiast as a phantasia that turns the listeners/readers into spectators:
πᾶσαν φαντασίαν ἐναργῶς προβέβληται ὡς μηδὲν ἧττον τῶν θεατῶν ἐσχηκέναι τοὺς ἀκροατάς.
Schol. Iliad XXIII 362–372
The entire vision is presented most vividly, so that the listeners are no less closely involved in the scene than were its spectators.
According to this Scholiast, the listeners become spectators in the sense that they are involved in the race just as much as the real spectators, the Achaeans watching the event. Does this mean that the listener is drawn into the past by Homer’s phantasia, adopting the point of view of the original spectators? Or is the phantasia of the theatrical kind, so that the performer’s audience is like the spectators of the past? Does our received Homeric text offer us signs pointing in either of these directions?
The presence of spectators on the spot is important in a well-known critical passage that deals not with Homer’s enargeia but with Thucydides’. Plutarch, in a well-known passage of On the Glory of the Athenians, says that the painter and the historian may differ in the means by which they represent human activity, but that their goal is the same: to create a lifelike picture of reality. And Thucydides is presented, in historiography, as the unrivaled master of this verbal painting. For Plutarch, the quality Thucydides strives for is, again, enargeia which turns the reader into a spectator: [13]
ὁ γοῦν Θουκυδίδης ἀεὶ τῷ λόγῳ πρὸς ταύτην ἁμιλλᾶται τὴν ἐνάργειαν, οἷον θεατὴν ποιῆσαι τὸν ἀκροατὴν καὶ τὰ γινόμενα περὶ τοὺς ὁρῶντας ἐκπληκτικὰ καὶ ταρακτικὰ πάθη τοῖς ἀναγινώσκουσιν ἐνεργάσασθαι λιχνευόμενος.
Plut. Glor. Ath. 347A
Thucydides in any case is always trying to achieve that vividness in his narrative, aspiring as he is to turn his audience into spectators, and to produce in his readers the experience of consternation and confusion that happened to those who were actually watching the events.
Just as in the scholion on Iliad XXIII 362–372 there is the mentioning of spectators on the spot, but Plutarch adds to this that the historian succeeds in representing the emotions those onlookers had in watching the events. Indeed, the historian’s painting of the scenes of the past derives its very force and enargeia from the presence of those spectators, whose emotions in the past the audience in the present is compelled to adopt, due to the force of the historian’s description. Plutarch goes far beyond the notion of the writer’s phantasia in the composition of vivid scenes and the mere transmission of its “vividness” to the reader; [14] he has something to say about the very mechanism of the enargeia, which is located in the emotions, the pathē, of the past. And by way of these very emotions, it is clear that in Plutarch’s conception Thucydides and his readers leave their present and go out to the mountain, displacing their deictic center in their imagination, their phantasia, to the past.

Displaced and Imperfect Vision

Let us stay with Thucydides for a few moments; we will soon return to Homer (or will Homer come back to us soon?). Plutarch’s formulation, with its insistence on emotions in the past, is tailored to fit one of Thucydides’ most celebrated descriptions, the great naval battle between the Athenian and Syracusan fleets in the harbor of Syracuse. [15] Thucydides’ account of the battle is strictly speaking not the objective, unmediated picture that he promises to his readers in the famous chapter on method (1.22.4) in the phrase τῶν γενομένων τὸ σαφές “the evidence of past events.” His enargeia will not simply be the vanishing of language for the benefit of “reality,” the erga of the war, but the “interference” in the description of the gnōmē, the—subjective—mind of the participants in the war. [16] In Thucydides’ representation of things done and things said, perception and cognition are important mediating factors. [17]
The presence of spectators in the theater of war in the harbor of Syracuse is immediately overt, since the struggle is fought before the eyes of the soldiers on the shore. The description proper of the battle opens (7.69.3) with the remark that the Athenian general Nicias positioned the army on the shore in such a way that “it would be of greatest help for the fighting spirit of those in the ships,” and it is through the mixed emotions of these soldiers that we perceive the battle ourselves. Thucydides exploits a universal human experience: the very powerlessness of watching renders the spectator even more involved emotionally than the one who is actually participating:
καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν δρωμένων τῆς ὄψεως καὶ τὴν γνώμην μᾶλλον τῶν ἐν τῷ ἔργῳ ἐδουλοῦντο· ἄλλοι δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἀντίπαλόν τι τῆς μάχης ἀπιδόντες, διὰ τὸ ἀκρίτως ξυνεχὲς τῆς ἁμίλλης καὶ τοῖς σώμασιν αὐτοῖς ἴσα τῇ δόξῃ περιδεῶς ξυναπονεύοντες ἐν τοῖς χαλεπώτατα διῆγον· ἀεὶ γὰρ παρ᾿ ὀλίγον ἢ διέφευγονἀπώλλυντο
Thuc. 7.71.3
And from the vision of what was being done as well as in their subjective experience of it they were being more enslaved than the ones who were in the real thing. Different groups were watching different parts of the battle, and as a consequence of the struggle being continuously undecided they lived with their own bodies the equivalent of what they fearfully imagined to be reality: each moment they were on the verge of being saved or lost.
This passage can perhaps be read as a historiographical mise en abîme, in which the historian’s problems in researching his material are symbolized in the incomplete and fragmented vision of the people on the shore. [18] But let us here focus on what it conveys implicitly through language, in particular its use of tense. We notice that the tense used in the extract is the imperfect, and this is not only typical for the rest of the description of this naval battle, but for many other passages in Thucydides as well. [19] As many manuals of grammar tell us, the imperfect is naturally the appropriate verbal form for action that is undecided and ongoing. But such a characterization does not capture what the imperfects do in this passage. In particular, it may be true that the two last verbs, διέφευγον and ἀπώλλυντο, designate ongoing, not yet accomplished escape and destruction; but it is much more pertinent to observe that these verbs denote subjective mental states rather than objective progression. The escape and the destruction do not take place in reality but in the mind of the watching Athenian soldiers.
Thus “durative” as an objective state can become “non-completed” as a subjective state of mind: the event described is durative only insofar as it does not depend for its completion on its assertion in language. It can be thought of as extending beyond its actual description: in other words, language was not able to “grasp” the event in its entirety. There is a kind of metonymy, a pars pro toto relation between word and object, imperfect and event, which is exploited by Thucydides to the full, to convey the illusion that the event is mentioned as it was experienced or perceived on the spot. [20] And so the imperfects in Thucydides help create a temporal deictic center that is displaced into the past. In Thucydides’ hands, the imperfect becomes a vicarious viewing, an extension of his readers’ present vision into the past, a camera eye placed at the center of the action of the war. [21]
The displacement is reflected in another narrative feature that is remarkable in connection with temporal deixis in Greek narrative: the use of the temporal adverb nūn for a temporal vantage point in the past, as opposed to the present of speech or narration. Thucydides frequently represents speech or thought in a way that we would call “free indirect speech,” the representation of what was thought or said without an overtly present verb of “citation.” [22] Free indirect discourse in Thucydides frequently contains the temporal adverb nūn, which thus comes to mark a temporal vantage point other than that of the historian in his writing present. Here is an example from the description of the naval battle at Syracuse: [23]
πολλὴ γὰρ δὴ ἡ παρακέλευσις καὶ βοὴ ἀφ᾿ ἑκατέρων τοῖς κελευσταῖς κατά τε τὴν τέχνην καὶ πρὸς τὴν αὐτίκα φιλονικίαν ἐγίγνετο, τοῖς μὲν Ἀθηναίοις βιάζεσθαί τε τὸν ἔκπλουν ἐπιβοῶντες καὶ περὶ τῆς ἐς τὴν πατρίδα σωτηρίας νῦν, εἴ ποτε καὶ αὖθις, προθύμως ἀντιλαβέσθαι
Thuc. 7.70.7
And there was an enormous amount of exhorting and shouting on the part of the boatswains on either side, both as to battle technique and to increase the urge to win; to the Athenians they cried out to force their way out and for the survival of their fatherland, now, if ever again, to hold on ferociously to the chance
This use of “now” in narrative is much more remarkable for Greek than it is for modern English. Thucydides appears to be the first to use the adverb in this way with any frequency: the use of nūn for a moment in the past is unknown to Homer and rare in Herodotus. [24]
Thucydides, then, fully exploits the properties of the progressive aspect of the imperfect to displace the temporal deictic center to the past of the war, and to create a new Zeigfeld: Mohammed has gone out to the mountain. Nor is this exclusively a matter of Thucydides’ narrative technique. When we turn from Thucydides’ implicit eyewitness report to explicit eyewitness accounts, whose narrator was really there and has seen it all, we find the same use of the imperfect. This happens most memorably in the messenger speeches in tragedy. When drama turns into narrative, its deixis becomes the opposite of that of dramatic illusion here and now: the demonstratio ad oculos of the characters on the stage yields to Deixis am Phantasma: the messenger’s report is there precisely to transcend the confines of the theatrical here and now and to direct his interlocutors’ attention to the remembered moment of his perception. A good example is a report on another important naval battle, the Athenian victory at Salamis in Aeschylus’s Persae:
τὰ πρῶτα μέν νυν ῥεῦμα Περσικοῦ στρατοῦ
ἀντεῖχεν· ὡς δὲ πλῆθος ἐν στενῷ νεῶν
ἤθροιστ᾿, ἀρωγὴ δ᾿ οὔτις ἀλλήλοις παρῆν,
αὐτοὶ δ᾿ ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἐμβολαῖς χαλκοστόμοις
παίοντ᾿, ἔθραυον πάντα κωπήρη στόλον,
Ἐλληνικαί τε νῆες οὐκ ἀφρασμόνως
κύκλῳ πέριξ ἔθεινον, ὑπτιοῦτο δὲ
σκάφη νεῶν, θάλασσα δ᾿ οὐκέτ᾿ ἦν ἰδεῖν
ναυαγίων πλήθουσα καὶ φόνου βροτῶν,
ἀκταὶ δὲ νεκρῶν χοιράδες τ᾿ ἐπλήθυον
φυγῇ δ᾿ ἀκόσμῳ πᾶσα ναῦς ἠρέσσετο
ὅσαιπερ ἦσαν βαρβάρου στρατεύματος·
τοὶ δ᾿ ὥστε θύννους ἤ τιν᾿ ἰχθύων βόλον
ἀγαῖσι κωπῶν θραύμασίν τ᾿ ἐρειπίων
ἔπαιον, ἐρράχιζον, οἰμωγὴ δ᾿ ὁμοῦ
κωκύμασιν κατεῖχε πελαγίαν ἅλα
Aesch. Pers. 412–427
Now at first the flow of the Persian host
resisted; but when the multitude of their vessels
was crowding together, and there was no assisting each other any more,
and they themselves by their own bronze-faced rammings
were battered, they broke all the equipment of their oars,
and the Greek triremes, not without some planned design,
in a circle struck them all around, and they were overturned,
the hulls of ships; nor was the sea visible anymore,
full as it was of wreckage and bloody human remains,
and the shores and rocks were full of corpses,
and in disorderly flight each ship was rowed away
of those that remained of the barbarian armada;
and the Greeks, just as tunas or some catch of fish
with fragments of broken oar and pieces of wreckage
they beat them and speared them, and wailings along with
cries of death rang out over the pelagic waters
Just as Thucydides’ narrative, this report does not provide details of individual events of the battle; a global picture is presented which is convincing as an eyewitness account precisely in its lack of specifics. Personal perception is the only thing the onlooker and eyewitness has as source for his memory, and in presenting his account, he has to go back in time to the moment of his vision. The imperfect’s past tense marking reflects the gap between seeing and a speaking that becomes an introverted seeing. The link with seeing, past and present, is explicitly mentioned in the following fragment:
τοὐντεῦθεν ἤδη τοῦ ξένου θαυμάσθ᾿ ὁρῶ·
λαβὼν γὰρ ἐλάτης οὐράνιον ἄκρον κλάδον
κατῆγεν ἦγεν ἦγεν ἐς μέλαν πέδον·
κυκλοῦτο δ᾿ ὥστε τόξον ἢ κυρτὸς τροχὸς
τόρνωι γραφόμενος περιφορὰν ἑλικοδρόμον·
ὣς κλῶν᾿ ὄρειον ὁ ξένος χεροῖν ἄγων
ἔκαμπτεν ἐς γῆν, ἔργματ᾿ οὐχὶ θνητὰ δρῶν.
Πενθέα δ᾿ ἱδρύσας ἐλατίνων ὄζων ἔπι
ὀρθὸν μεθίει διὰ χερῶν βλάστημ᾿ ἄνω
ἀτρέμα, φυλάσσων μὴ ἀναχαιτίσειέ νιν,
ὀρθὴ δ᾿ ἐς ὀρθὸν αἰθέρ᾿ ἐστηρίζετο
ἔχουσα νώτοις δεσπότην ἐφήμενον.
Eur. Bacchae 1063–1074
From that moment on then I am seeing the Stranger’s miraculous works:
Taking the pine’s highest heavenly branch, he
led it down down down to the black soil:
it formed a circle as a bow or a round wheel
being drawn at the compass as it goes round its revolving course:
that’s how the Stranger leading the mountain twig with his hands
bent it to the earth, working deeds that are beyond mortals’.
He placed Pentheus on coniferous branches
And let the tree’s shaft make its way up through his hands,
Carefully, taking care it did not throw him off.
Straight up it stood now into the straight sky
Having my master sitting on its back.
The present form ὁρῶ in the first line is not a “historical present” if that would mean that it vividly represents the speaker’s seeing in the past. The present tense is real and the seeing takes place no less in the present. His memory of what he just saw is a detailed phantasia which matches the reality witnessed earlier. By adopting the speaker’s original vantage point, his interlocutors become spectators of the scene and displace themselves to this not-here and not-now.
But the vividness of the eyewitness report cannot be sustained by remembered vision alone. No perception is meaningful without a context, and language cannot completely give way to the Phantasma remembered by the reporter and created in the minds of the audience. The stream of vision has to be channeled by background knowledge or discourse-organizing language. Here we encounter the use of the aorist in the eyewitness’s report. In Thucydides’ descriptive passages, the aorist typically occurs in parenthetic clauses with the particle γάρ, in which the historian does not tell “what happened” but explains what would otherwise have been unclear. Almost all of the eleven aorists used in the description of the naval battle at Syracuse passage serve this purpose. For example at 7.69.4 when Nikias is positioning his soldiers on the shore, we hear that the other generals, Demosthenes, Menander, and Euthydemus, “had boarded the ships” (ἐπέβησαν); and in the next chapter the historian intervenes with remarks as to the battle’s unprecedented nature:
πλεῖσται γὰρ δὴ αὗται ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ ἐναυμάχησαν· βραχὺ γὰρ ἀπέλιπον ξυναμφότεραι διακόσιαι γενέσθαι
Thuc. 7.70.4
Never before had so many ships delivered battle in such a constricted space; on both sides there were close to two hundred vessels.
And after the battle description the historian adds the evaluative remark that the Athenians experienced the same as “what they had done” (ἔδρασαν, 7.71.7) to the Lacedaemonians at Pylos. [25]
These aorists translate well with the English pluperfect and would in a Homeric context presumably be augmented, according to the findings of Chapter Seven. Yet rather than referring to events that took place before the action of the story’s time-line, they suspend, or end, the displacement effected by the imperfects and carry the narrative’s cognitive basis from the past to the present: this is not the (pretended) onlooker’s perception in the past but the historian’s knowledge in the present. [26]
In the discourse of eyewitness reports, then, on which Thucydides draws to achieve the vividness for which Plutarch admires him, the usual opposition between the aorist as foregrounded and the imperfect as backgrounded tense is reversed. It is the “durative,” backgrounded imperfect that carries the narrative in foregrounded description and the “punctual” foregrounded aorist that is used to provide background comments, frames, and evaluations. [27] If the imperfect with its displacing potential is the appropriate instrument for this going to the mountain, we may now ask whether narratives that are chiefly conducted in the aorist do not seek to obtain the opposite effect: the imagination of the mountain here and now. To explore this possibility, and the deictic behavior of the Greek aorist, we now turn to Homer.

Speech in a Boundless Present

The cognitive basis, then, for the utterance of verbs such as the aorists in Thucydides’ battle description is not perception and the (personal) memory of a (pretended) eyewitness but the historian’s knowledge. The epic poet, too, has access to knowledge, which involves a kind of memory very different from the personal memory of the messenger: the knowledge deriving from the epic tradition. Let us explore the deictic properties of narrative that is predominantly carried by such knowledge. Consider the following extract, the killing of the Trojan Peisandros by Menelaos, in the Iliadic battle:
Πείσανδρος δ᾿ ἰθὺς Μενελάου κυδαλίμοιο
ἤϊε· τὸν δ᾿ ἄγε μοῖρα κακὴ θανάτοιο τέλοσδε,
σοὶ, Μενέλαε, δαμῆναι ἐν αἰνῇ δηϊοτῆτι.
οἱ δ᾿ ὅτε δὴ σχεδὸν ἦσαν ἐπ᾿ ἀλλήλοισιν ἰόντες,
Ἀτρεΐδης μὲν ἅμαρτε, παραὶ δέ οἱ ἐτράπετ᾿ ἔγχος,
Πείσανδρος δὲ σάκος Μενελάου κυδαλίμοιο
οὔτασεν, οὐδὲ διαπρὸ δυνήσατο χαλκὸν ἐλάσσαι·
ἔσχεθε γὰρ σάκος εὐρύ, κατεκλάσθη δ᾿ ἐνὶ καυλῷ
ἔγχος· ὁ δὲ φρεσὶν ᾗσι χάρη καὶ ἐέλπετο νίκην.
Ἀτρεΐδης δὲ ἐρυσσάμενος ξίφος ἀργυρόηλον
ἆλτ᾿ ἐπὶ Πεισάνδρῳ· ὁ δ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἀσπίδος εἷλετο καλὴν
ἀξίνην εὔχαλκον, ἐλαΐνῳ ἀμφὶ πελέκκῳ,
μακρῷ ἐϋξέστῳ· ἅμα δ᾿ ἀλλήλων ἐφίκοντο.
ἤτοι ὁ μὲν κόρυθος φάλον ἤλασεν ἱπποδασείης
ἄκρον ὑπὸ λόφον αὐτόν, ὁ δὲ προσιόντα μέτωπον
ῥινὸς ὑπὲρ πυμάτης· λάκε δ᾿ ὀστέα, τὼ δέ οἱ ὄσσε
πὰρ ποσὶν αἱματόεντα χαμαὶ πέσον ἐν κονίῃσιν,
ἴδνωθη δὲ πεσών· ὁ δὲ λὰξ ἐν στήθεσι βαίνων
τεύχεα τ᾿ ἐξενάριξε καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα·
Iliad XIII 602–619
And Peisandros, straight against renowned Menelaos
he went; an evil destiny led him to the fulfillment of his death,
to be subdued by you, Menelaos, in the terrible battle.
And they, when they were close, charging at each other,
Atreus’ son then missed, and it swerved off beside, the spear,
and as to Peisandros, the shield of renowned Menelaos
he hit, but he couldn’t drive the bronze all the way through,
for the broad shield held it, and it broke in its shaft,
the spear: and he in his spirit he rejoiced, and expected victory.
But Atreus’ son, drawing the sword with the silver nails
jumped at Peisandros, and he under his shield took a beautiful
all-bronze axe-handle, around a handle of olive wood,
large and well-polished; and simultaneously they struck each other.
He on his part struck the helmet’s hornet, horse-haired,
at the top, below the crest, but the other on the forehead as he charged,
over the base of the nose: and he bones cracked, and the eyes
fell bloody to the ground before his feet in the dust;
he doubled up in falling; and he, stepping with his heel on his chest,
he despoiled him of his armor and in triumph spoke the word:
The narrator’s camera eye has zoomed in on a single encounter in the vast battle, and the detail is almost overwhelming; this is very different from the “metonymic” descriptions we find in Thucydides and the Aeschylean messenger’s reports. The amount of detail alone makes this passage less realistic as the representation of an observation on the spot. But in fact, this narrator does not report on the encounter; he performs it.
Let us now look at the tenses in this light. The description of this killing starts with imperfects. The first one, ἤϊε, might seem to lead us back into the past, just as in Thucydides; but the second one, ἄγε (μοῖρα κακὴ θανάτοιο τέλοσδε), is not a visual detail. Rather, it sets the scene for details to come, placing the outcome of the event, fatal for Peisandros, before its actual visualization. This is not an eyewitness speaking qua eyewitness, or a narrator who wants us to adopt the internal point of view of an eyewitness, but someone with a very different perspective on the reality he evokes. He knows things in advance, or with hindsight, and does not hide it.
A further difference with Thucydides occurs in the next line: here it turns out that the preview of the scene is addressed to one of its participants, Menelaos himself. As the tense of the verb shows, the address takes place, not at the moment of action in the past, but later, at the time of the performance. That means that Homer has not gone to Menelaus; Menelaus has come to Homer, or is present when Homer performs Peisander’s death, and the illusion that takes place is the theatrical illusion that I described earlier as pretended demonstratio ad oculos. The address, comparable in deixis to Orestes’ address to his dead mother, is not one of Homer the poet imagining himself close to Menelaus, but of Homer the performer imagining Menelaus close to him.
The scene that follows is “played” entirely in the aorist, most of the verbs being augmentless. [28] The poet “knows” what happened, better than when he had come as a messenger from the Trojan plain to give us his personal report. And the amount of detail he has at his disposal makes for another kind of vividness. In using the aorist for fast, kinetic, and punctual events, Homer seems to conform to accepted insights in the Greek tenses. However, “punctuality” in and of itself is no more the essential feature of the aorist (or of the events it denotes) than “durativity” is the key feature of the imperfect. Nor is the difference between the two tenses best expressed in these terms. Instead, I propose to seek the difference in their deictic behavior: whereas the imperfect displaces the temporal deictic center to the past, the aorist does not. This means that the aorist can be used in situations of immediate deixis, Bühler’s demonstratio ad oculos, whereas the imperfect cannot. It also means that when the aorist is applied to what is not immediately present, it will perform Deixis am Phantasma in a way opposite to that of the imperfect.
The aorist is the ideal vehicle for what I called in Chapter Six a present that is open to the past. Two situations may now be distinguished in light of the discussion of augment in Chapter Seven: (i) a past event becomes knowledge asserted in the present, in which case the aorist tends to be augmentless; (ii) a past event comes to constitute the present of utterance itself, the aorist being here frequently augmented. The first situation is typical for the discourse of the Homeric narrator and the second for that of the characters, but this distinction is not rigid. In particular, the narrator may borrow the augmented forms from characters’ speech to impart to his narrative the immediacy of live speech in real contexts (see Chapters Seven and Eight).
As we saw, augmented aorists can be used with the adverb nūn, the marker for proximal temporal deixis, for example when Paris says “Now Menelaos has beaten me (νῦν…ἐνίκησεν) with Athena’s help” (Iliad III 439–440). [29] The imperfect, by contrast, cannot be used with nūn: the adverb’s immediate temporal deixis is incompatible with the displaced immediacy of the imperfect. [30] The aorist modified with nūn does not mark the past qua past, nor does it present a present that has become the past; rather, it marks a past that has become the present. [31] The deictic adverb nūn modifies not the event but its utterance; the event’s “now” is the speaker’s now in which the past event has the importance and relevance to become a speech act: Paris does not describe his defeat; he admits, that is, performs, it.
The “past” expressed by an aorist, then, is not a past in the proper sense of the word; it is not a past that is removed from speakers as long as they do not go to it; rather, the past comes to them, and that is why they perform the aorist in the first place. The movement of the past into the present becomes literal when the aorist is a real verb of movement, so that “now” can become a speaker’s “hither,” a “here,” as when Achilles says “(…) I have come hither to fight” (ἤλυθον ... δεῦρο μαχησόμενος, Iliad I 152–153). [32] This is a statement about Achilles’ present “here and now,” not about the past, and the aorist ἤλυθον is not a report on Achilles’ coming, but a statement, a declaration, of its results. When or how he came is less important than his being here. As long as Achilles stays where he is, the “truth value” of the statement “I have come hither” does not change. The exact moment at which the coming was “completed” in the past (according to the punctual aspect of the aorist) is of no importance. What counts is that these past actions have created conditions that make their utterance in the present a meaningful thing to do.
The same deictic orientation applies to self-reflexive presentations of funeral statues and other commemorative monuments with the inscriptional formula “X has set (me) up (μ᾿ ἀνέθηκε) as votive offering/funeral monument, etc.” A past action has resulted in a concrete presence, a statue or stele, and as long as the statue is standing, the utterance of the aorist will not change its deictic orientation. In other words, the utterance of ἀνέθηκε is repeatable: it will say the same thing at different times and uttered by different speakers, as long as they are faced with the same statue or monument. So irrespective of when or how the activity they designate was accomplished, these aorists enact and reenact the activity’s lasting consequences in any concrete present, each time anew. As such a reenactment, they designate what was, what is, and what will be.
The aorist, then, opens up the present to the past, and allows for the possibility that the conditions for its utterance may continue to obtain. The future orientation of the aorist is made explicit in the words of Calchas the seer, specialist of past, present, and future:
οὔ ταρ ὅ γ᾿ εὐχωλῆς ἐπιμέμφεται οὐδ᾿ ἑκατόμβης,
ἀλλ᾿ ἕνεκ᾿ ἀρητῆρος ὃν ἠτίμησ᾿ Ἀγαμέμνων,
οὐδ᾿ ἀπέλυσε θύγατρα καὶ οὐκ ἀπεδέξατ᾿ ἄποινα,
τοὔνεκ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἄλγε᾿ ἔδωκεν ἑκηβόλος ἠδ᾿ ἔτι δώσει·
Iliad I 93–96
No, not because of a vow does he blame us, nor because of a hecatomb,
But on account of a priest, whom Agamemnon has dishonored:
Neither has he given back his daughter nor has he accepted the ransom.
Therefore he has given us grief, the far-shooter, and will continue to do so.
Apollo “has given grief” (ἄλγε᾿ ἔδωκεν) earlier, an action in the past that extends into the present, where it is interpreted and stated. [33] No metonymic eyewitness reporting on past events here, but interpretation, performance in the present. The aorist ἔδωκεν does not displace any point of view into the past; the event it denotes comes from the past into the present, and it spills into the future as well, if no action is undertaken now, as Calchas makes clear by linking the aorist with a future (ἠδ᾿ ἔτι δώσει). Again, the aorist as an assertion, a performance, is repeatable. A new utterance is not another reference to the same past event, but a sign that the past continues to feed the present.
The sense of repeatability becomes even stronger when no specific past event is involved, e.g.: [34]
ὃς δὴ πολλάων πολίων κατέλυσε κάρηνα
ἠδ᾿ ἔτι καὶ λύσει· τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἐστὶ μέγιστον.
Iliad II 117–118
(Zeus), who of many cities has dismantled the crests,
and he will yet dismantle: for his power greatest.
Agamemnon does not report on any specific occasion on which Zeus was destroying particular cities, as would have been the case if he had used an imperfect. He speaks about Zeus’s timeless power. And yet the aorist, in expressing this timeless power, is not timeless. It is uttered in a precise, concrete context; and it will be uttered later on in a concrete context (Iliad IX 24–25). The aorist asserts, performs Zeus’s power now, and locates that present in the infinite series of presents in which it is appropriate for a human to assert Zeus’s power.
When also the verb’s subject becomes generic, we call the assertion a proverb and the aorist “gnomic,” as in ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω (“When the thing is done the fool has understood it,” Iliad XVII 32). [35] The “thing done” and the “fool” may be unspecific in the actual wording of the saying, but that does not make the aorist timeless. Proverbs are not references to specific events, but captions that capture the common denominator in a whole range of events. Their essence is not their prepositional content, but their utterance in a specific situation that the speaker thinks warrants the proverb’s utterance. In other terms: not semantics but pragmatics. A proverb brings previously accumulated knowledge to bear on the present, which in this way becomes as context of the proverb’s utterance a present filled with the past. So instead of being “timeless” (in the sense of having no temporal reference), the statement or gnome is meant to be uttered precisely in the kind of “now” in which the past intrudes, and the future as well, because the same situation is bound to recur.
Instead of being an anomaly in the grammar, then, the “gnomic” aorist constitutes the most extreme case of the deictic and performative nature of this form of the verb. It perhaps best exemplifies the Greek grammatical term ἀόριστος “boundless,” which has been interpreted by modern grammarians as applying, negatively, to the way in which the aorist asserts the occurrence of the event (i.e. devoid of any aspectual properties such as duration or conation, etc.). What the term describes, however, seems less the event itself than its utterance or performance in a “now” that is open to the past as well as to the future. In other words: a boundless present. [36]
We could extend the list of uses of the aorist, in Homer and beyond, but the feature of the aorist relevant for the present purpose should stand out clearly now: in uttering an aorist, one does not refer to an event; one performs it. The event, whether it is specific or generic, becomes language, captured in its entirety by the speech of the present. There is no hint that the event could somehow be larger than language, escaping in part its verbalization. That relation between word and object, present and past, is the domain of the imperfect, as we saw, in its capacity of conveying the illusion of seeing on the spot. Performing an event or describing it: the new formulation of the difference between the aorist and the imperfect upsets in part the usual aspectual opposition between “punctual” and “completed” on the one hand, and “durative” and “non-completed” on the other. The terms in that opposition could be reversed insofar as what is “completed” is the past event referred to with the imperfect, whereas the very possibility of (re)performing an event with the aorist is proof that the event is not completed: as long as speakers judge the event’s utterance a meaningful thing to do, it will continue to feed the past into the present, a continuity that links past, present, and future.

Eternal Dramatic Presence

The speaker, then, who utters a proverb that is appropriate in a given situation is comparable to the seer who discloses the past that is hiding in the present. Both capture a situation’s essence in speech that brings the past to bear on the present. Both also resemble the epic singer as he performs his tale. Like the speaker of the proverb, the singer draws on previous speech and previously accumulated knowledge—the tradition of which he is a part. [37] And like the seer, he sees what is hidden: the past in the present, to which he has access through the power of his memory, which equals the seer’s mantic vision. [38] In this respect, epic poetry partakes in the deixis and pragmatics of the language of myth and ritual. A mythical time comes to the present, where it is re-presented and re-lived in what Mircea Éliade calls the “eternal present.” [39] The mythical or epic events qua narrative events are not “past,” except in a banal chronological sense. The reality of epic occurs “now,” due to the poet’s capacity to transcend everyday time, and reality is mirrored in Éliade’s “hierophanic time.” That time becomes present each time anew. Each present moment carries the past within it, and a poet can make it visible, here and now.
The aorist, with its performative potential, is the natural vehicle for such mythic narrative. It remains so when the narrative expressly intends to be detailed and vivid: the aorist’s deictic orientation turns Homer’s listeners into spectators, as the scholiasts repeatedly point out. Such epic spectators are different, however, from Plutarch’s ὁρῶντες as they are exemplified in Thucydides’ watching soldiers; they are also different from Thucydides’ readers: they are not eyewitnesses whose vision comes to us through language that is meant to make us forget language. Their vision originates in words, not deeds. Nor is the speaker of those words pretending he verbalizes what he sees now, or saw at an earlier moment. His vision, too, comes from words, the kleos of the past. [40] There is no image, whether actual vision or phantasia, that precedes language. Rather, conversely, the phantasia, ours as well as the performer’s, results from language. It takes place after the event, which is in the first place a speech event. In uttering his speech, the speaker performs the event. He makes the mountain come to him and so makes possible our viewing. Reversing Longinus’s definition of phantasia (“a thought capable of generating speech”), [41] we may characterize Homeric performed narrative as “speech capable of generating phantasia.”
Homeric poetry is not a report on a memory; it is memory. Its focus is not the event remembered but the act of remembering itself. Since remembering is activation in the present, rather than reference to the past, epic’s deictic orientation (its origo in Bühler’s term) is centered on the now of the performance. Epic’s now is not the displaced now of experience in the past, the now one has to travel to, but the moment of recollection in the present:
ἔσπετε νῦν μοι, Μοῦσαι,Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾿ ἔχουσαι
Sing now to me, Muses, who dwell in Olympian houses
Homer can ask this question an infinite number of times, in each new performance, and each time the answer will be new, uttered in a new now. A projected now has become an actualized, deictic now. [42] By contrast, Thucydides presents us a past that is unconnected to memory, personal or collective, partial or perfect. His writing has fixed it for all times to come, by opening a window on it. Each new reader that looks through it will observe the same events, sharing in the emotions that accompanied them. The now of the narrative will remain the now of the events, not that of their representation.
Two ways, then, to view the past, and two ways to achieve immortality. To the reiterability of performance Thucydides opposes the continuous accessibility, through writing, of a one-time perception. The difference is in the final analysis one between speech and writing, between the deictic orientation of performance and that of written narrative designed to be received in reading. Not that oral narrators are in themselves incapable of going to the mountain. But performance, with its physical face to face interaction between narrator and audience has a much firmer grasp on its own here and now than has writing, where speaking and its now are fictional. Writing’s answer to the precarious temporality of its own fictionalized performance is reification. The written work will present itself as well as its referential object as “real,” and untouched by the vicissitudes of “real” time. Thucydides’ κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί presents us the events of the war themselves, frequently abandoning the now of its own narration. But while the events are “imperfective,” as we saw, recorded as if observed in their very occurrence, the work itself is presented as an epic event, “performed” by the aorist in each new present: “Thucydides has written (ξυνέγραψε) the War of the Athenians and Peloponnesians.” [43]
Homer has become a text, too, turning from performer to author in the process. But textualization has done little to change epic’s deictic orientation and we have to be alert to the signs pointing to it that are contained in the Homeric text. The tale that presents its constitutive events as accomplished in their very performance presents itself as a request for ongoing action: “Start now the song of μῆνις, Muse.” In listening to the tale, we witness the work’s very creation. The Muse makes the poet remember, she has done so before, and she will do so in the future, each time that the tale is told anew.


[ back ] 1. ὅταν ἃ λέγεις ὑπ᾿ ἐνθουσιασμοῦ καὶ πάθους βλέπειν δοκεῖς καὶ ὑπ᾿ ὄψιν τιθῇς τοῖς ἀκούουσιν, 15.1.
[ back ] 2. “Longinus” in the same passage states that the principal purpose of phantasia turned into words, whether in poetry (where it is called ekplēksis) or in rhetoric (where it is called enargeia) is the creation of “pathos” and emotional disturbance (παθητικόν, συγκεκινημένον). On the conception of phantasia in On the Sublime, see Manieri 1998:51 ff., who notes that the term is used in three senses: mental faculty to produce images, mental image that generates language and can thus be communicated to a hearer, and represented object.
[ back ] 3. On οὗτος as a second-person deictic, see above, Chapter Five, p. # (cf. Bakker 1999a: 6–8).
[ back ] 4. Bühler 1934:80, 105, 125.
[ back ] 5. Bühler 1934:123. For deixis and anaphora, see Chapter Five above, p. # (Bakker 1999a:4–5).
[ back ] 6. Bühler 1934:133–134.
[ back ] 7. Bühler 1934:140; cf. 391–394.
[ back ] 8. Although Bühler is certainly not alone in seeing in epic an imaginative displacement to the past, e.g. Hamburger 1957:56; Steinrück 1999.
[ back ] 9. On the history of this concept, see Zanker 1981; on enargeia in the Scholia, see Manieri 1998:179–192; for the rhetorical tradition, see Calame 1991.
[ back ] 10. Ἐνάργεια of the gods: XX 131; iii 420; vii 201; xvi 161 (cf. Chapter Eight above, p. #); Sophocles, Trachiniae 11; of dreams: iv 841; Aeschylus, Persae 179; Herodotus 5.55.1; 7.47.1; of oracles: Aeschylus Prometheus 663; Herodotus
[ back ] 11. E.g. on IX 494. The scholiasts are not ignorant of modern distinctions. For example, at i 390, the scholiast remarks that Telemachos’s use of the demonstrative τοῦτ’ is deictic, not anaphoric (for the distinction between deixis and anaphora in Ancient grammatical theory, see Apollonius Dyscolus, On Syntax; in the scholion on XXII 38 the term δακτυλοδεικτεῖ is used to characterize the use of deictic phrase ἀνέρα τοῦτον: “as if he is pointing him out to him with his finger.”
[ back ] 12. On πάθος in the Scholia, see Richardson 1980, Manieri 1998:85–88.
[ back ] 13. Cf. Plutarch, Nicias 1.1.
[ back ] 14. At De defectu oraculorum 432B2–3 the notion of phantasia is applied to remembrance of things past, as a mental grasping of what is absent.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Bakker 1997d:40ff.
[ back ] 16. The rhetorical virtue of saphēneia is often paired with enargeia, so that to saphes as a property of discourse (“transparency”) and to enarges as a property of the reality a discourse produces (“clarity”) are virtually indistinguishable (e.g. Theon, Progymnasmata 71.31 [Spengel]; but note that saphēneia and enargeia can also be opposed to each other, e.g. schol. ad IV 154). Plutarch’s characterization of the emotions to be reproduced as ἐκπληκτικὰ καὶ ταρακτικά aligns Thucydides strictly speaking with poetry. E.g. at Longinus, On the Sublime 15.2, enargeia is reserved for the effect of rhetorical discourse in particular, as opposed to the ekplēksis aimed at by poetry. See also n. 2 above.
[ back ] 17. See Rood 1998:61–82.
[ back ] 18. Cf. Walker 1993:354.
[ back ] 19. In the chapters 69–72, there are 48 finite indicative imperfect verbs.
[ back ] 20. Notice that the historical present does not occur in the passage. For a reassessment of the historical present, see Sicking and Stork 1997, who call into question the usual conception of this use as “vivid.”
[ back ] 21. It is true that many of Thucydides’ imperfects do not denote specific actions performed by specific agents, and so can be read as “distributive-iterative” (note also the many distributive optatives in the passage); but that universality can precisely convey the illusion of vision, the experience of a large spectacle in its entirety. See further Bakker 1997d:39–40.
[ back ] 22. To be sure, free indirect speech in Greek is less free than in modern English or French: it does not emancipate itself from the syntactic constructions of indirect speech, as appears from the fact that infinitives are almost obligatory (presupposing an unspoken verb of saying or thinking). Linguistic markers of this type of presentation include the indirect reflexive pronoun σφισι and the evidential verb μέλλειν (in a use that is markedly different from the Homeric use discussed in Chapter Six); see Bakker 1998a; 2005a.
[ back ] 23. Other examples in Thucydides: 1.96.1; 4.73.3; 4.78.4; 4.114.5; 5.15.2; 5.45.2; 5.61.2; 6.24.3; 6.29.3; 6.49.2; 7.4.4; 7.5.3; 8.43.3.
[ back ] 24. See Herodotus 4.137.2 λέγοντος ὡς νῦν. At Hdt. 4.14.3 and 4.15.2 νῦν does apply to the past, but is used not by a character but by the narrator. Note, however, that Herodotus does make use of the free infinitives, often in a clause modified by the explanatory particle γάρ, which in fact comes close to being a sign of this intermediate degree of free indirect discourse, e.g. 8.61.2. On νῦν at Thucydides 7.70.7, see also Bakker 1997d:40–41.
[ back ] 25. In Aeschylus’s Persian messenger’s speech, the series of descriptive statements in the imperfect cited above ends with the capping phrase ἕως κελαινῆς νυκτὸς ὄμμ᾿ ἀφείλετο (428), which puts an end to the flow of visual information and lifts the narrative back to the present. (Note the similar πρίν γε δὴ . . . ἔτρεψαν at Thucydides 7.71.5, which comes at the end of the experiential description of the battle; cf. Lysias 1.15.) The extract from the Bacchae is followed by a line containing two aorist forms (ὤφθη δὲ μᾶλλον ἢ κατεῖδε μαινάδας, 1075) which is not part of the description of the scene but serves as a frame for the next one.
[ back ] 26. Note that on this understanding of the aorist, the number of “narrator’s interventions” (Gribble 1998) in Thucydides increases considerably. Cf. Edmunds 1993.
[ back ] 27. On background and foreground in the description of grammatical tense, see Labov 1972; Dry 1983; Hopper 1979; discussion also in Bakker 1991a. On foregrounded description, see also Lopes 1995.
[ back ] 28. With the exception of ἔσχεθε in l. 609, but that verb occurs in an explanatory clause with γάρ, that is, the same environment in which in Thucydides we found the aorist.
[ back ] 29. Cf. IV 12 νῦν ἐξεσάωσεν, referring to the same event; cf. e.g. IV 179; V 423; VIII 500; IX 118; after Homer, e.g. Aristophanes, Acharnians 153; Euripides, Orestes 504; Herodotus 1.30.2 (νῦν. . . ἵμερος. . .μοι ἐπῆλθε); Plato, Gorgias 475D3–4.
[ back ] 30. Even Thucydides, when he uses νῦν for a “now” displaced to the past (see notes 22–24 above), does so only in infinitive clauses, as we saw, never in independent narrative statements.
[ back ] 31. On this notion of “past” in epic poetry, though without reference to the aorist, see Chapter Six above, pp. # (Bakker 1997b:12–13, 22, 24–25).
[ back ] 32. Cf. the use of the aorist with the negation markers οὔ πω or οὔ πωποτε “never … thus far,” which effaces the distinctness of any past, making it come into the speaker’s present: e.g. I 106, 108 (note καὶ νῦν, 109); I 154–155); I 262; III 169, 442 (446: ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι); IX 148 (290); X 47–51, 293, 550; XIV 315 (cf. Chapter Seven, p. #, and see XIV 328: ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι). Contrast οὔπω with the imperfect, which keeps the “not yet” in the past, e.g. I 224 (καὶ οὔ πω λῆγε γόοιο) or XII 203 (καὶ οὔ πω λήθετο χάρμης), where the negation is “internal,” an inherent part of the event: “did not yet stop” equals “continued.”
[ back ] 33. Note that Calchas uses the evidential particle ἄρ(α), which as we saw in Chapter Six, p. # (cf. Bakker 1993:15–25) is typically used for conclusions drawn by speakers from their immediate physical environment. Note further that the two aorists in l. 95 (οὐδ᾿ ἀπέλυσε. . . οὐκ ἀπεδέξατ᾿) are less the negation of past events than denials, in the present, of their occurrence in the past. For the use of the aorist in outright denials, see Gildersleeve 1980:106.
[ back ] 34. See also Longus’ οὐδεὶς ἔρωτα ἔφυγεν ἢ φεύξεται (Daphnis and Chloe, prologue 4).
[ back ] 35. See also Chapter Seven above, p. #.
[ back ] 36. Modern explanations of “aorist,” e.g. Smyth 1956:414; Humbert 1960:141; the ancient grammarians used the term ἀόριστος because of the tense’s apparent ambiguity between remote and recent past, e.g. Apollonius Dyscolus Adverbs 124.21–25 Schneider (cf. Chapter Seven above, note 37).
[ back ] 37. See also Bakker 1997b:28 and Chapter Six above, p. #.
[ back ] 38. See also Vernant 1990:115–16; Detienne 1967:15–17 on the metaphysical aspects of “memory” in archaic Greek poetics; see also Chapter Eight above (cf. Bakker 2002a:67–68). Note that the mythical sections of the epinikia of Pindar (“poet and prophet,” cf. Duchemin 1955) are predominantly vehiculated by the aorist.
[ back ] 39. Eliade 1949:329–331.
[ back ] 40. Cf. II 486.
[ back ] 41. πᾶν τὸ ὁπωσοῦν ἐννόημα γεννητικὸν λόγου, 15.1.
[ back ] 42. See also Chapter Six, p. #.
[ back ] 43. On the semantics of this phrase, see Loraux 1984 and Bakker 2005b.